Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Dicing with death' on the Farne Islands

The breeding birds are long gone but there is still plenty to do for the team on the Farne Islands. As they prepare to close the Islands to visitors for the winter season, the rangers are adjusting to exciting yet potentially hazardous seal pup monitoring. Lana, one of the Islands rangers lets us know how the team are getting on. 
'I am happy to report that there have been very few close calls so far and all our limbs are still intact however the phrase ‘dicing with death’ does come to mind when dealing with some of the more possessed pinnipeds. The process involves five or more of the rangers covering the islands counting the already sprayed pups and searching for unmarked pups.  When an unmarked pup is found three rangers distract the females whilst the sprayer dyes the pup’s tail being careful to avoid the pup’s eyes.  Spraying expeditions are carried out every four days to ensure we don’t become overwhelmed by new births and that we don’t compromise the welfare of the pups by causing a detrimental amount of disturbance.  So far we have sprayed approximately 60 pups in a range of dye colours.'

Day old seal pup on Staple Island.                                                                                  ©Tom Hibbert

'As well as seals to entertain us we’ve been kept busy counting the migratory birds that use the Farnes as a much needed rest stop.  In the last couple of weeks we’ve had good passage of Thrush (Blackbird, Song thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare) heading through, with numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare hitting the thousands (1197 and 1321 respectively), as well as an impressive count of 148 Brambling. 2015 has also been a good year for Short-eared owl sightings with a peak count of 8 (possibly more!) on the 16th Oct.  This matches the record count of 8 on 13th Oct 2011 for this lovely bird.  During this time we had a large influx of Goldcrests with up to 60 birds counted on one day.    We had great views of these trusting little birds, the highlight being a group of 5 cuddling up together to keep warm whilst roosting in a Greater Burdock.  Last, but by no means the least was a lovely surprise in the form of a Dusky Warbler on the 16th, representing the 8th record for the islands and making it two years on the trot for this lovely little “Sibe” warbler.  Good views were had by all.

This time of year also sees us carrying out lots of maintenance work that couldn’t be done during the breeding season.  We have just had 3 tons of wood delivered to Inner Farne to carry out important boardwalk repairs. On the habitat management side of things, lots of strimming and nettle removal has been carried out in preparation of the breeding birds returning next year.  We hope that by opening up areas formerly taken over by nettle we can create additional nesting areas for Sandwich, Common and Arctic who require a short sward height to nest successfully.'

3 tons of wood being transported over to the islands!                                                                  ©Ed Tooth
'After our last opening day on 1st November, the next few weeks will see us replacing large sections of the boardwalk in preparation for next seasons visitors.  Seal pup monitoring will hit its peak in the first couple of weeks in November so it will be all hands on deck for the ranger team!  Watch this space for further updates on how the seal season progresses.'

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